A Mafia-Bloods Alliance

They were the oddest of couples. "I want you to feel me like I feel you guys, man," says Edwin Spears to an amused Joseph Perna. Perna is the son of a Lucchese crime family capo; Spears, the so-called five-star general in the Nine-Trey Bloods street gang. "But really, man," Spears says on the government's tape, according to a New Jersey affidavit, "love you guys to death."

This week Perna, 38, and another high-ranking mobster, Michael Cetta, 41, were charged with racketeering, conspiracy to distribute heroin and a host of other charges stemming, in large part, from surprisingly candid wiretapped phone conversations they had with the Bloods leader. New Jersey authorities say it is unclear how Spears, 33, forged his relationship with the Lucchese family members. What is clear is that Spears and Perna talked at great length. Authorities allege that the pair organized a sophisticated scheme to distribute heroin, cocaine, marijuana and prepaid cell phones into a New Jersey state prison. Investigators say Perna and his associates supplied cash to Spears's brother Dwayne, who in turn bought drugs and phones. Dwayne Spears allegedly passed the contraband on to a corrupt prison guard who funneled it to Edwin Spears to sell inside the prison. Perna's attorney, Anthony Iacullo, told NEWSWEEK, "Any charges whatsoever that relate to organized crime, the Bloods street gang and drugs and Joseph Perna are absolutely 100 percent false." He declined to comment on why his client had been talking to Spears, saying he will argue his case in court. Cetta's attorney, Marco Laracca, told NEWSWEEK that any allegation of heroin distribution was "absolutely absurd and unfounded. We clearly deny those charges." He said the affidavits portray only "a glorified gambling case." In the transcripts of the tapes included in the affidavit, Perna and Cetta do not ever explicitly discuss drugs. They talk about money and about meeting Spears's brother; Perna expresses concern that they watch what they say.

Mob experts and law-enforcement officials say the case is the first documented example of the Mafia apparently partnering with a gang such as the Bloods. The 15-month probe involved dozens of investigators who followed alleged Lucchese crime bosses into diners and to meetings at rest stops off the Garden State Parkway. A total of 32 people were charged, with several of them also facing charges relating to an alleged Lucchese sports gambling operation.

Transcripts of conversations between Perna and Spears made public in an affidavit filed by New Jersey investigators reveal details of the relationship. Perna, for instance, asks Spears to help him pacify another Blood member who was attempting to extort money from a Mafia friend. Spears tells Perna to use his name, saying, "My gangster name, I'm saying, in my hood is Movelli … Tell him I can get in contact with anybody from Jersey or New York … He's gonna know that there ain't nothin' he could say to you that you can't find out or have him pushed." The taped conversations also paint a picture of a young street criminal enamored of an older mobster. Edwin Spears's attorney did not return a phone call seeking comment. Dwayne's attorney, Michael A. Grasso, said his client turned himself in and has no ties to organized crime.

Marc Agnifilo, who was the chief of the gang unit in the New Jersey U.S. Attorney's office (he left last year) and who also worked in the office's organized crime strike force, said he believes Perna and Cetta were freelancing to make extra money on the side. "I don't think the Luccheses in general would want to do business with the Bloods," he said. "I can't imagine that the Luccheses have declined to the point that they need the Bloods to make money."

Agnifilo said the far-reaching case highlights the dangers the mob faces when it attempts to do business with outsiders, especially street gangs. He said in the past the mob has supplied narcotics to gangs on a wholesale basis, but he has never before heard of the level of involvement that Perna, according to the government, had in Spears's alleged prison drug distribution scheme. "It would be very dangerous for the mob to do too much business with street gangs, for a few reasons," he said. "Street gangs operate in a much more open and notorious fashion, which leads to a lot more street gang members getting arrested in law enforcement sweeps than members of organized crime … Street gangs, even more than mobsters, tend to cooperate with law enforcement when they're arrested, so if you have deals with a street gang member you really run the risk that he'll get arrested and flip on you."

Another seasoned mob observer was less surprised by the alliance. Jerry Capeci, a journalist who has covered the New York crime families for decades, runs the Mafia Web site ganglandnews.com. He said that while he has never before heard of the mob working with gangs like the Bloods, he is not surprised. "Gangsters are equal-opportunity criminals," he said. "They will team up with whomever they can in order to make a buck." Capeci said he does not believe the mob's willingness to work with gang members suggests desperation. "The Luccheses are weakened, but they are still a viable New York City crime family," he said. "They still kill people when they have to."

NEWSWEEK spoke about the investigation and the newly discovered alliance between the mob and the Bloods with New Jersey Attorney General Anne Milgram, whose office is supervising the case.

NEWSWEEK: Why is this case important?
Anne Milgram:
What we have is a large mafia organization, the Luccheses—it's one of the five La Cosa Nostra families—and [they're] essentially running a large criminal operation. When you talk about this gambling ring you're talking about $2.2 billion in bets in 15 months. So what you're talking about is really just a massive criminal organization [with] very high-level individuals in the Luccheses—Joseph Perna and Michael Cetta—who are linked to a very high-level member of the Bloods, Edwin Spears. [They are] financially linked in their criminal enterprise.

How did Spears get to know the Lucchese family members?
We don't have definitive information on that yet. The investigation is ongoing.

So Spears was in jail while running this operation for the mob?
He was incarcerated. He was actually set to come out this week.

The Nine Trey Bloods, Spears's alleged gang, sound violent. Can you tell me a little bit about them?
They're one of the major sets of the Bloods. They operate throughout New Jersey in multiple counties. They're one of the more hierarchical parts of the Blood group, meaning they've got the five-star generals and they've got layers of supervision and control within that subset of the Bloods.

Did Spears found them?
He did not found them. I think they were actually founded by folks who were at Rikers Island, but Spears is a very high-ranking general. Five-star general is as high as it gets except for being OG, an original gangster. The OGs are usually the sort of leadership committees. So he's an incredibly high-ranking member of the Nine Trey.

Have you heard of any other jurisdictions establishing a link between La Cosa Nostra and gangs?
I haven't. It's something that, within law-enforcement communities, we talk about potential links or things we're starting to see or things we're hearing about. But this is really the first time that we've seen such a direct line … Obviously, the Luccheses are making a lot of money off of this financial partnership. They're supplying the money and they're getting a cut of the profits. And at the same time what the Bloods and Spears in particular are getting is a source of funding to basically fuel the narcotics and the prepaid cell phones coming into prison. I would argue the cell phones allow them to continue criminal activity on the outside.

What does this newly discovered partnership suggest about the state of La Cosa Nostra?
Even old-school organized crime is changing in their willingness to work with new-school criminal organizations … Cetta and Joseph Perna are both "made" members of the mob, but they're some of the younger and more junior members of the Lucchese organization …The younger generation of organized crime members are expanding into different criminal ventures.

I read that a Nine Trey member was just sentenced for killing a Newark school police officer last week. How violent are they?
The Bloods is one of the largest street gangs in the state. Nine Trey is one of the largest and most violent sets of the Bloods. There have been a host of prosecutions in the state that have centered on Nine Trey. We did a massive one during the summer of 2006. That investigation involved high-level drug distribution charges as well as assault and other charges, so there's no question that they're a particularly violent gang.

Do you believe these arrests will severely weaken Nine Trey and the Lucchese family?
There's no question that what we're really doing is taking out essentially the upper, the middle, and the lower level of the Luccheses. This centers on a specific member of Nine Trey and certain associates of Nine Trey. The removal of echelons is aimed in this particular case at the Luccheses.

What are the dangers of prepaid cell phones being available in prisons?
I think it's naive to think that the prepaid cell phones are being used solely to call family members and loved ones. What we've seen time and time again is that the prepaid cell phone numbers are being used by gang members to orchestrate crime both inside the jail and outside … It allows individuals on the inside to commit criminal acts, to continue to run criminal operations on the outside. It could facilitate any type of crime, violent crime; it could be drug distribution.

It appears one Lucchese family member asked Spears to get a Blood gang member to stop extorting a Mafia friend. Can you tell me what you know about that?
The Luccheses asked Spears to intercede and assist when they believed an associate of the Luccheses was being shaken down or extorted by a member of the Bloods in North Jersey. That is yet another example of a direct link between the two criminal organizations.